Targhee Pass environmental assessment underway

RIGBY, Idaho (KIFI/KIDK) - The Idaho Transportation Department is working to dial back some of the controversies over future improvements to US 20 at Targhee Pass.

The base project is aimed at improving safety and mobility of aging infrastructure. The agency has been reviewing plans for US 20 improvements from Chester to the Montana line since 2004. The process has been assessing the condition of the highway corridor and identifying needs for the next 20 years. One basic finding is projecting growing traffic volume and the need for safer passing.

The $22.2 million budget is using a combination of federal aid highway funds (92.66 percent) and state matching funds (7.34 percent), which is near the standard split for Idaho highway projects.

In October 2016, the Idaho Transportation Board approved the use of federal funds to move forward with the Targhee Pass segment of the project. Late that year, the department initiated an environmental assessment to review issues and costs associated with reconstruction of the corridor.

Most of the local controversy over the project has developed around wildlife issues, which must be addressed in the environmental assessment. A number of proposals were developed between 2006, when the process began, and now to deal with wildlife in the corridor.

No decisions have been made.

The environmental assessment is addressing a number of alternatives. They include an uphill climbing lane, wider shoulders to accommodate motorists and cyclists, left and right turn lanes into Big Horn Hills Estates entrances, road reconstruction and drainage improvements, and vegetation clearing to help increase visibility and prevent icing. 

Five alternatives are being reviewed that might reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions. They are:

  • Alternative 1: No-Build
  • Alternative 2: Three wildlife overpasses & fencing (with roadway improvement)
  • Alternative 3: Animal detection system (with roadway improvements)
  • Alternative 4: One wildlife overpass, animal detection system & fencing (with roadway improvements)
  • Alternative 5: Operational Wildlife-Vehicle Collision Reduction Strategies (with roadway improvements) 
    • EXAMPLE: Variable message signs that can be moved with migration seasons

ITD said that if wildlife fencing is involved, the work would preserve access to public and private land by providing vehicle and pedestrian passage. Those would be decided in cooperation with the U.S. Forest Service, Fremont County and Idaho Department of Fish and Game.

An impact analysis of all five alternatives is currently underway. ITD said that analysis will include evaluation of any issues the public has identified and issues it is required to review by law.

Once complete, probably this summer, the analysis will go to the public. ITD said it plans a public meeting in Island Park at that time to get public comment before a decision document is finalized.  

Final decisions will be based on the document and on public comments on it.  

You can learn more about the project here.

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